Thursday, September 29, 2011


Seven classes.
Average enrollment as of this week, the third of the term: 28.
196 total students.
Quite a load.

Classes will shrink.
Some students have failed already.
Missed three classes out of a total fourteen, meaning 21.43% of course time missed.
Policy is to fail them at 20% absence.
Allowances made in some cases.
Still, not all cases merit allowance.
Try again.

Others will fail.
I am demanding.
I require attendance.
I require work.
I require to see it.
I require much.
If there is no challenge, there is no reason to improve.
You are not good enough.
Neither am I.
Hence the challenge I offer you.
Get better.
Here is how.

It is a lesson I am still learning.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


As I was reading the online New York Times today, I ran across Tamar Lewin's September 12, 2011, article, "Student Loan Default Rates Rise Sharply in Past Year."  Lewin notes that there have been larger numbers of students failing to make their required student loan repayments, particularly at for-profit colleges, which largely serve low-income students and are the fastest-growing portion of the college population.  Lewin makes mention of gainful employment regulations and of the ability of students to opt for income-based repayment plans, which does ameliorate the depressing tone of the article and makes it a bit more effective a piece of reporting.

Since the article alludes to gainful employment regulations, they do reappear in my mind.  And I do not think that they are a well-founded idea.  Consider: we bemoan the failing state of education in the United States, saying that we have lost something in our halls of learning from where we were twenty years ago and more.  At the same time, we make of those same schools more vocational training programs--saying that the point of college is to be able to get a good job--than the kinds of schools that we claim to think that they should be.  I work at a technical school, yes, and I hardly believe that training in vocational fields is a bad thing, but training in vocational fields tends all too often comes at the expense of the kinds of critical thinking and social acculturation that is cited as being the thing missing from "the good old days" (the kinds of things that "useless" humanities courses teach).  Do not complain about the lack when you are enforcing it.

Consider also: gainful employment regulations hold colleges accountable for the employment of their students in the years following graduation (or other departure from the schools).  Are the colleges expected to hire every one of their graduates?  For it is only their own hiring practices over which they have any control whatever; they have no ability to compel private firms to take on any given employee, or indeed any employee at all.  Why, then, should we hold colleges to account for activities and decisions that they have no ability to carry out or determine?  Is this just?  Is this right?  And for those students who leave college for reasons other than their graduation...they quit, even if for a completely sensible reason.  Do we expect the military to take care of those among its personnel who fail to complete basic training not because of a grave injury sustained but because they cannot complete the course of instruction?  Who muster out because they give up and stop trying?  Do we expect any other private firms that offer training and instruction to their employees to ensure that the training offered is put to good use after the employee quits?  Again, is this just?  Is this right?

Consider a third: for-profit colleges do have problems, yes, and they damned well ought to be held to account for their recruiting practices; they ought to have to be honest and offer full disclosure about financing options.  But they are also staffed by people, many of whom are dedicated to their jobs and who have an honest, sincere desire to help the students under their tutelage become better workers, better citizens, and better people.  They do not mislead their students; they do not lie to them; they instead do everything they can do to help their students improve themselves and their lives.  And they will be the ones who suffer when the funding cuts called for by gainful employment regulations go through, despite that they are not the ones who do wrong and they are not the ones who cause problems.  Once again, is this just?  Is this right?

Consider a fourth: when the funding is cut, the predominantly low-income students who are served by for-profit colleges, who turn to those schools because they lack the academic acculturation required for success at most public and non-profit private institutions, will be unable to attend those schools--they need the financing because they cannot otherwise afford to go to school.  Many (very many) are in need of substantial remediation, which most public institutions are unable--and many non-profit private, unwilling--to provide, but which are abundantly offered by the for-profit schools.  Gainful employment regulations will result in many of the students most in need of the services offered by for-profit colleges losing access to them, and since it is the case that "you need a degree to get a good job," that denial of access tends to permanently fix those students among the lower socioeconomic strata.  They are condemned to poverty and toil because of things beyond their own control, despite their best efforts and hard work.  Is it right?  Is it just?

Yes, I do work for a for-profit college, and so yes, I have a vested interest in seeing for-profit schools do well.  But just as having a pot call a kettle black does not mean that the kettle is not, in fact, black, that I am the one who says what I say does not mean that what I say is untrue.  Indeed, that I work for one--as is not now and in few if any cases has actually been the case for those who have written and approved the gainful employment regulations--lets me know what does actually go on at them.  And that is the same as is true for most any school: teachers teach, students learn, and we work towards making better the world in which we live.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Today, I taught two classes at the technical college where I am employed as a full-time instructor (I think the job more that of a lecturer...).  In the second of them, a freshman composition class, a student piped up and claimed that he would earn an A "because [he's] a writer, you know."  Not long after, the same student commented that he loves to write but hates to read.

I smiled sweetly at him.  It was not a surprise when he turned in what he turned in for the day's writing assignment.

I am amazed at the idea that a person can write without reading--I know it is not true, but it surprises me that that is not immediately obvious to people.  Does anyone expect to be able to shoot a basketball without seeing others shoot?  Does anyone expect to be able to throw tsuki iriminage without seeing it done?  Really?

I wonder how long it will take the student to learn the lesson he seems to need to learn.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Happy Labor Day, folks!

It is part of a fine tradition in the United States that those able to do so host and attend Labor Day cookouts, gathering together around grills in yards, in parks, and on patios to celebrate the end of the summer party season. It tends to roughly align with school calendars, as well, adding to its "last day of freedom" aura.

I do not abstain from such celebrations; rather, I revel in them. And I have been doing a lot of grilling, not just for Labor Day (the party for which my lovely wife and I had yesterday) but throughout the summer--and even outside it. Consequently, I have played around quite a bit with various rubs and seasonings to put on meat as I apply fire and smoke to it, as I think I have noted. My guests and my beloved wife have told me they go over very well, and so I think I'll share what I have...

For Grilling Chicken:
4 1/2 lbs chicken (I use boneless cutlets for ease)
1/2 Tbsp each table salt, ground allspice, ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp whole black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 teaspoon each cayenne and paprika

Thoroughly mix the non-chicken ingredients together (I use a small countertop grinder/food processor). Sprinkle mixture on chicken while grilling.

For Smoking Chicken:
2 1/4 lbs chicken (again, boneless cutlets for ease)
2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons whole black pepper
1 teaspoon each garlic powder and ground cinnamon

Thoroughly mix the non-chicken ingredients together (I use a small countertop grinder/food processor). Rub mixture into chicken and allow to sit overnight. Smoke chicken.

For Smoking Pork:
5 3/4 lbs boneless pork tenderloin
1 1/4 c brown sugar
3 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp each ground ginger, ground cloves, cayenne, ground allspice
2 teaspoons each table salt and whole black pepper

Thoroughly mix the non-pork ingredients together (I use a small countertop grinder/food processor). Rub mixture into pork and allow to sit overnight. Smoke pork.

Tasty. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


In church today, after our associate pastor said she would beat me up (seriously), she challenged the congregation to consider forgiveness as our ability to remain who we are despite what is done to us, and to apply that consideration to the events of ten years ago next Sunday.

Yes, it is that time.

In any event, the idea of forgiveness as remaining who one is despite what one endures is somewhat problematic in my mind.  Certainly, I understand the thrust of the discussion; it is incumbent upon us to hold to what we know is right, to act as we know we ought to act, regardless of what others do or have done to us.  And it is true, from a purely logical sense, that past performance is not an absolutely certain indication of current or future action.

The idea is one that is familiar to me from my study of aikido.  One of the instructors at the New York Aikikai has repeatedly stated that nage, the person performing the technique, should perform the technique not worrying about uke, the person who receives the technique, but about the technique itself.*  That is to say, nage acts without real regard to uke to dissipate any aggression that may be present--something much like passing peace along, really, and something I am hardly the first to notice.**

On the other hand, experience is the primary teacher; we know what we know because of what has happened to us.  What we have endured is the very thing that tells us what is or is not right in a given situation.  It seems to me, therefore, that it is not possible to act without regard to it, and so I am faced with the frightening idea that forgiveness is not possible.  Yet it is an article of faith for me as a Methodist that it is not only possible, but it is freely offered and ought to be by all of us.

Is the contradiction one, then, that requires the Almighty to resolve?  Is it merely an issue of my incomplete understanding? (I know that it is partly that, at least; my concern is that it is wholly that.)  Is it an issue of the offered definition being--I apologize, Reverend--incomplete or inaccurate?

I believe that faith should not be easy, that that which is struggled for is more valuable, and so I appreciate the challenge for consideration that the pastor presented.

I am not sure how to feel about the one for the fight.

*Insofar as there ought to be any worry about the technique itself.  Diligent practice, however, ought to ensure that there is not any actual thought given to the technique as it is performed; having to think about it slows it down and results in nage getting hit in the face or something similarly undesirable.

**I recall reading a comment by O-Sensei to that effect, although I cannot recall where.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


It is remarkable how quickly I slipped back into my common routine upon returning home.

The weeks that my lovely wife and I spent gallivanting through the middle of the country had us living out of our suitcases and relocating every few days--with the exception of the time spent fishing in Arkansas, where we got to stay more or less in one spot for a good three days.  It was very good to see and spend time with our families, but it was also exhausting to spend so much of our time in transit--especially given some of the difficulties we faced getting around, what with vehicle problems, flights being rescheduled, and hour after hour of ass-in-the-seat dragging.

I used to spend a lot of time in the driver's seat of a car, commuting to school and delivering pizzas and shooting back and forth between graduate school and my parents' house every couple of months.  It used to not be a problem.

Anyway, being disconnected from my usual life for a time seems to have helped; I returned to New York City refreshed and ready to begin anew.  Indeed, I have already returned to work, if only lightly, on the dissertation and some of my upcoming conference activities.  I have gone to the dojo to get tossed around by people who are not exactly young.   And I am going to fire up the grill for friends tomorrow, weather permitting.

If it does not, I will do something else that will still be quite interesting.

In each of these, I feel myself returning to my "normal" life.  I like that life quite a bit; it is a good one, relatively free from troubles (so that I have the time to focus on annoyances), and it lets me do things that I find enjoyable.  So I suppose it is a good thing.